Thursday, December 29, 2011

Education and Social Networking

During the winter break I have been trolling Twitter looking for people in the educational world to follow. I have come across some fascinating individuals: teachers, union leaders, writers, students, reporters and professors. It's been quite interesting. I had no idea that people actually argue back and forth on Twitter. There seems to be an unending discussion about education reform, which I think is a good thing. The educational system in our country is definitely broken. I am reading a lot of great ideas and theories. I still consider myself a bit of an outsider in the world of teaching. I have a lot of experience as a student, but I only graduated with my Master's in education in May of this year. I have been working part time as a substitute teacher since September. In my "former" life I worked in corporate America. Being a part of the business world was an education itself. It taught me responsibility and accountability, which were not completely foreign in my life, but let's face it: If you don't do your job you risk losing it. When you have rent/mortgage, a car payment and various bills you learn very quickly the importance of being accountable. Why is accountability an issue in education? Parents blame teachers, teachers blame parents, administrators blame budgets, teachers blame administrations, unions blame everyone but teachers. When does it stop? When I was growing up we didn't have the information overload we do now. If there was an issue within a school or education as a whole, we often didn't hear about it right away. There was the newspaper and the nightly news on television. Maybe there were school meetings our parents or guardians attended. Today students learn about almost everything in real time. I wonder how they feel about the adults who make decisions about their educational well being. As an adult looking in I see a lot of embarrassing stuff. I don't know all the answers, but there has to be a better way.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Another Month Gone....

Once again I have not been keeping up to date on my blogging. Thankfully, December was a very productive month for me. I was busy substitute teaching almost every day! It was very exciting and I feel very grateful for the opportunity. I only hope it continues. Each day was a new experience. I was asked to sub in virtually every subject. During the first few months of the school year I would get an occasional call to fill in for an English teacher (my certified area). These calls were few and far between and disappointment started to set in. I am guessing as the year progressed, the substitute pool began to dwindle. It's not an easy job: I basically have to wake up every day, get dressed and ready as if I am going to school, and wait for a phone call to come in. If I am lucky I get a call the night before, but most of the time it is last minute. When I get the call in the morning I drive to school, meet with the sub coordinator for my assignment, hustle to the subject's department office for lesson plans and find my first classroom. Hopefully it is unlocked. If not, I have to find a custodian who can open it. I review the lesson plans and class rosters. God willing, everything will be included (lesson plans, handouts, rosters, class emergency instructions, seating plans,anything else the teacher wants me to deliver)and I will have time before the first bell to write instructions or notes on the blackboard or smartboard. The bell rings, the pledge and morning announcements are broadcast over the p.a. system, I take a roll call, send any absences to the attendance office and deliver the lesson. Anything can and does happen during class: bathroom requests, locker runs, passes to the nurse, one on one instruction, group reading, test prepping, handing out work, collecting work, taking notes for the teacher on what went well, who misbehaved and what could have gone better. Substitute teaching is not for the faint of heart. It's definitely not easy, but it's a good way to learn the inner workings and atmosphere of a school. It's like taking another student teaching course, except I am getting paid instead of paying tuition to a university. One Monday I subbed for an eighth grade social studies teacher who had a doctor's appointment. He was only gone for three periods. His eighth period class was an absolute nightmare. There were over 30 students and several of them decided "we don't have to respect the sub because she isn't our real teacher." When the bell finally rang to end the period several of the boys began turning over desks and chairs as they ran out of the room. I was stunned. I also had to leave the class to teach a ninth period class on another floor. The regular teacher came in and was upset. I thought he was mad at me for not being able to control the class. I left him a quick note with the details of what took place during class and apologized because I had to run to my other class. I figured my subbing career was over. The following morning (Tuesday)I was called in to sub again. While waiting in the front office for my assignment the teacher from the day before approached me and apologized. He called the parents of the students who misbehaved and had the whole class write apology letters to me. If they misbehaved they had to detail their actions in their letter. If they did not participate they had to apologize for allowing the other students to carry on in a disrespectful manner. I was dumbfounded and thanked the teacher. The next morning (Wednesday) I was called in to sub for a third day. Waiting for me was a folder with the letters from the eighth period social studies class. I was floored. I read each and every letter. I don't think I have ever witnessed such accountability in an educational setting. This teacher knows what he is doing. I learned a very valuable lesson as well. I guess this is an example of the on the job training that I have been waiting for! I can't wait for the holiday break to over so I can go back to school.

Friday, November 25, 2011


A few months have passed since I've written. Since my last entry I have had several interviews at various schools for full time positions, unfortunately nothing fruitful. Last Thursday I interviewed for a leave replacement position in a middle school. The A.P. was pleasant enough, the school wasn't too far away from my home and I was quite hopeful. Unfortunately it wasn't meant to be. The A.P. explained that if given the job I would be working in a classroom where each student was reading a different book. I didn't follow her at first so I asked her to explain. Basically for each class (5 in total) there are approximately 30-33 students and each one of them is reading a different text. She explained they teach to each child's reading level and I asked if there was 30-33 levels in each class. I was dumbfounded. She couldn't really explain that. I thought perhaps they did not have a budget to provide students with the same books. I could understand if you had each class reading 3-4 books. That would be manageable. I could see the students working in groups and lessons being created perhaps on a common theme that each book shared. I asked the A.P. how this benefited the students? How was the current teaching teaching? She said the teacher wasn't effective and I could understand why. I felt terrible for the students. These kids were not going to be prepared for high school. I left hoping I would not get a call back and so far I haven't.

I get called approximately one a week to substitute in the suburbs. I'll admit, teaching here full time would be a dream. I am grateful to see this example of education: the school is well funded, parents are involved, students actually behave and most teachers are fully engaged in their lessons. This experience has reminded me of a book I read in grad school titled Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol. Rich communities have good schools and students thrive. Poor communities have poor school and seem to completely write off success for any student. In my heart I am still drawn to these types of schools. I can only pray I'll be given the opportunity to make a difference.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

School Starts Next Week

I have somehow managed to get two substitute positions in two different school districts. One I wrote about in my last entry. The new one is closer to my home and seems to have more promise. The assistant principal I interviewed with assured me that I will be very busy by the third week in September. He also assured me that the school prefers to hire internally when full time positions open up. He anticipated over a dozen retirements in the next year. I've heard this before from another A.P. who did not hire me. I have resolved to become a realist about this whole thing, yet I am often engulfed in the joy of optimism and possibility. A couple of my fellow graduates were lucky enough to secure full time positions. One who graduated early was hired here in the suburbs. Two others were hired in Brooklyn. One of them even forwarded me a job opening in a Queens middle school that she got a head's up on. I of course emailed the principal immediately. Unfortunately she sent it to me on Friday after everyone was gone for the extended Labor Day weekend. I plan on calling first thing Tuesday morning. New York City schools open on Wednesday. I have nothing to lose. Thankfully I have become more disciplined in my reading. I just finished Don't Let's Go To the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller. It's a memoir from a woman my age who was born in England but grew up in Rhodesia Africa. It was so well written: heartfelt, descriptive, funny and tragic. She lived on a tobacco farm with her parents and older sister. Whilst in Africa her parents lost 3 children. One before Alexandra (aka Bobo) was born (a boy) and two (boy and girl) after. After losing the first child the family briefly returned to England where Bobo was born. The family missed Africa desperately and moved back as soon as they were financially able. They never had much money, but Bobo's mother was find of saying they had "good breeding" which was more valuable that money. Life in Africa was so hard for the family: disease, terrain, the oppressive heat, the revolutions, racism and war. Somehow, love of the land, animals and lifestyle overshadowed the tragedy. These people were determined and resilient in ways many of us can only dream of. Bobo retells her mother's battle with alcoholism and mental illness with such compassion and honesty. It's an amazing book. One day when I am teaching I hope to be able to use it for a course on memoir. I think students will like it because it is basically told through the eyes of a child. Kids are brutally honest. Too bad many of us lose that when we become adults.

Friday, August 5, 2011


I unfortunately received rejection letters for my last two interviews. I felt I did OK, but I lack experience and that seems to be a problem. Thankfully, the one school that I did interview with for a full time position called me back to interview as a substitute. I was hired on the spot. I was so elated I didn't even ask how much the per diem rate was. To be honest I don't care. I just want the opportunity to be in a classroom and have some experience for something educational on my resume. In the meantime, the hiring freeze in new York City has been lifted for new teachers. I have been applying like crazy. Hopefully I will get a phone call this week. I am told all the hiring seems to happen in the last 2 weeks of August. I still have hope!

I just finished reading a wonderful book, Snow in August by Pete Hamill. It was on a summer reading list for one of the schools I applied to. The book is an emotional journey of a young boy (Michael Devlin) growing up in Brooklyn in the 1940s. His parents are Irish immigrants. Sadly his father (Tommy Devlin)is killed in the war and his mother Kate struggles to make ends meet. Michael is an altar boy who by chance (or fate) befriends a local rabbi. Michael becomes a shabbos goy for Rabbi Hirsch, turning on the lights and stove for the sabbath. The rabbi asks Michael to teach him English and in return he teaches Michael Yiddish. The rabbi tells Michael wonderful and horrible stories of his life, living in Prague, the Nazis, losing his wife and his struggle with faith. Michael introduces the rabbi to baseball and together they witness history as Jackie Robinson becomes a major league player. Robinson becomes a symbol for all people who are discriminated against and both Rabbi Hirsch and Michael declare "I'm for Jackie." I don't want to give away the ending, but it is a happy one where the good guys (and goys) win. I hope I get to use this book sometime during my teaching career.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

First Interview down, second next week

I had my first ever teaching interview last Wednesday. There were dozens of applicants working on writing samples when I arrived. They were all in their twenties, tall, blonde, tanned and wearing designer clothes. I must have stuck out like a sore thumb. I hope that is to my advantage. The interview itself wasn't bad. It was conducted by a panel of 5 people: a vice principal, 2 English teachers, a parent representative and the chairperson. I think I did well. I can only hope for a call back. They asked basic questions such as to how would I handle a problem student, other than essays what assignments would I give, how would I keep parents informed and why I thought literature was important? I was confident in my answers and I made sure to ask them a few intelligent questions as well.

I received a phone call from another school district yesterday. They asked me to come in for an interview this Monday. It is for a substitute position. At this point I will take anything. I am thinking that for the next 7 weeks this will be my life. At least I hope it will be. I started a summer class at a local college last week. The professor mentioned that if any of us were looking for a job we needed to stick to our phones the last 2 weeks of August. Apparently that's when all the hiring goes on. I keep thinking things would be more organized, but then I remember everyone is off over the summer. It only makes sense that things start to get busy in late August. Hope springs eternal :)

Friday, July 1, 2011

The First Interview: Next Week

The month of June seemed to pass by at the speed of light. I have been keeping my self busy applying for jobs and catching up on reading. Yesterday I received my first call for an interview. Thankfully I was given an assignment and I have 5 days to prepare. The poem I was given to "teach" is one I had never heard by a contemporary American author I am not familiar with. My research began immediately after the phone call. I scoured the internet checking local bookstores, online bookstores and libraries. Amazon had what I needed and shipped it immediately. I could have had it downloaded to my husband's Kindle, but I find I need to have the actual book. Especially if it is for a scholarly pursuit. I need to be able to hold the book, write in the book, highlight passages and important points, bookmark pages with post-it notes, smell the pages and digest its contents.

Maybe someday I might get comfortable with e-books. I am not ready today. I am however a teacher. I need to remind myself to be open to learning and new experiences. I need to embrace technology because most of my students will be on the cusp of it. Today I will stick with the familiar as I prepare for the future.I did order the book online. That has to count as "embracing technology," right?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Higher Education?

In my quest to find new literature to create lesson plans, I stumbled upon the book "Higher Education? How colleges are wasting our money and failing our kids and what we can do about it" by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus. They are both professors at Queens College. It is a comprehensive view about the enormous amounts of money Americans spend on higher education and how we are really not getting our money's worth.

Aside from the catchy title, I was drawn to it because it was written by two professors from Queens College. During my classroom observation assignments I was placed in several classrooms with other college students, a few from Queens College. I found the Queens College students had a really good grasp on classroom management, lesson planning and pedagogy in general. Many of my fellow students from the private grad school I attended seemed overwhelmed with the whole field experience requirement. Many of us felt we were not ready or prepared to face the challenges of the classroom. We all seemed to have so many questions. I found the students from Queens College were very confident and seemed to have less questions. In conversations with my classmates, they observed the same. I thought it was interesting that many of us thought by going to a private school we would get a better quality of education. This seems to be the mentality of many Americans in general.

"Higher Education?" brings to light many issues in colleges today. All too often teaching assistants and grad students do the work of professors. Everything from teaching classes to grading assignments so professors can have more free time to do research. The sad thing is, some colleges demand that professors complete a certain amount of research, published papers, books etc. in order to get tenure and climb the "college ladder." I found this disheartening. I want to be a teacher so I can teach. I want to know my students and be a part of their educational well being. I wonder if these professors are just burnt out or don't want to be in the classroom anymore. When you get to a certain level of education are students not the main focus? For education to improve we must be committed to the classroom not disengaged. Thankfully, many of my fellow grad students share that philosophy. We are becoming teachers because we want to make things better. Hopefully we will hold tight to these principles throughout our teaching careers.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The great job search!

Wow, it has been a very long time since I have posted anything. I need to get back on track! In the past two months I completed my student teaching assignment, passed the last of my certification tests and successfully finished my M.A. in Adolescent English Education (YAY!). I can't believe I am really done. If all goes as planned, I will be able to print my official teaching certification this Friday directly from the state website.

I have applied for several positions, both permanent and temporary. I did get called back for a writing sample from one school district two weeks ago, but haven't heard anything since. I have a cousin who is a teacher and he says most districts will be looking to hire back any teachers that were laid off before they hire someone new. My best chance is to get in as a leave replacement or a long term substitute. I am applying for any job I can get with my certification. It will happen. I just need to be patient.

While I am waiting, I've decided to start creating lesson plans for anything and everything that I might possibly use. During my student teaching experience I was introduced to many young adult novels that would work well in the classroom. My goal is to read them and post reviews and lesson plans here. I am off to the library today and see what treasures I can find.

Monday, March 7, 2011

No Voice - No Teach

I have learned more in the past few weeks than I have all last semester. My most recent learning experience: do not come to school if you are sick. I struggled horribly last week with a fever, sniffles and sore throat. I tried to push through, but all the talking I had to do in class killed my voice. My fourth period class sensed my weakness and took complete advantage. I was trying to show a movie but they would not stop talking and my mentor teacher wound up stopping the movie and giving them a spelling lesson. I was mortified and disappointed. I took several factors into account.First off, it was Friday (the end of Spirit Week) and the kids could not wait for school to end. Secondly, the class is ruled by a group of "mean girls." My mentor teacher has never shuffled their desks and does not discipline them especially when it comes to cell phones. It's been really frustrating. They were so kind to me when my teaching supervisor observed several weeks ago. It's hard to believe they are the same kids! Regardless, when I woke up this morning my voice was still shot so I stayed home. Tomorrow my teaching supervisor will be visiting and I need my voice.

I am a bit disappointed with my mentor teacher. He isn't very supportive and he has made it clear he likes to work alone. I wonder why his boss chose him to work with a student teacher. Other teachers acknowledge he is a good educator but he has zero social skills. At one point the English chairperson suggested I observe her 9th grade class 3rd period instead of his AP class. I loved it. She is an awesome teacher and a great communicator. My next assignment is to work in a 9th grade setting. I am praying it is with her. I might speak with her tomorrow and see if it can be arranged. I know they are doing me a favor by allowing me in their school, but I am paying tuition to learn and I think I have learned all I can with this teacher. It's time to move on. I guess this is where my management skills will come into play.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

On the front lines...

I am deep in the trenches of my student teaching assignment. It started slowly, which I am grateful for. The teacher I am working with knows what he is doing and I am following his lead. Right now I am teaching two 11th grade English Regents classes and I observe an Honors English 12th grade class. This week I will start teaching the Honors class along with my 11th graders and observe some 9th grade inclusion classes.

Last Wednesday my teaching supervisor observed me during my 4th period class. I was incredibly nervous. (I later joked with my husband the last time I was that nervous was on our wedding day.) The students were nothing short of amazing. They knew something was going on and they gave me their full respect and cooperation. It was one of those "teacher moments" that brought me such joy I could have cried. This solidified my reasons for wanting to become a teacher.

My supervisor had nothing but positive comments. He told me to slow down a bit and enjoy the students. I was so focused on getting through my lesson plan and as fate would have it I finished early which was not so good. He said it's par for the course when you are learning to teach. There is no magic bullet. Everything comes in time and you are constantly revising things.

I am looking forward to tomorrow. I can't remember the last time I looked forward to a Monday that wasn't a holiday. I still have lesson planning and a quiz to make up but I am happy. I just hope I am lucky enough to get a job when I graduate.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Good Advice for College Students

I am currently working on my 3rd college degree. If there is one piece of advice that I can offer to students everywhere it's "be proactive" with everything.

That advice is a no-brainer when it comes to school work. If you procrastinate you only hurt yourself. But the one place you might think you are safe is with the administrative part of your college experience. I know when I first started my journey toward higher education I thought professors and administrators knew best. After all, I was just a mere minion in the grand scheme of things right? Wrong. I have lost count of how many times my files (paperwork, registration, grades etc) have been screwed up because of simple incompetence. What blows my mind is that often the incompetence is because of a professor with a doctorate and years of life experience. My latest fiasco is thanks to my college advisor who never approved my student teaching registration for the spring semester. Although I registered early and reminded her several times to please sign off on my request she still neglected to do so. During the winter break she is conveniently "unavailable" until the start of the semester. This doesn't help me or the other students left in a lurch.

Thankfully we have a dutiful teaching supervisor (retired high school principal) who works part time at the university. He happened to flag several of our accounts and brought it to our attention someone else needed to approve our requests or we would not be able to begin our assignments next week. Unfortunately those of us who needed approval had to schlep to the school and speak personally with a dean to have them over ride the approval.

I can't speak for the rest of the world, but the reason I want to be an educator is to help kids learn. That doesn't just mean that I have to be a lifelong learner myself. It means the whole kit and kaboodle: being technically proficient, grading promptly, keeping students, parents and coworkers well informed as well as looking for ways to help students succeed. If you do not possess that passion and take the necessary steps to ensure things get taken care of, maybe you should not work in education. You can't force someone to have a moral compass, but you can evaluate poor performance and take the necessary steps to correct a problem. This isn't brain surgery or rock science. It's common sense.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Student Teching in the Suburbs

I met my cooperating teacher yesterday. We were set to meet at 2pm. He was 15 minutes late. I think I have voiced my opinion on lateness before. Coming from the business world where it is not tolerated, I find it not only annoying but rude. As I move into life as an academic I find it's the norm for most teachers, professors and administrators.

The teacher (Rob) walks in the classroom (with a Starbucks cup), looks at me in horror and begins to apologize. I accept his apology (because I love Starbucks) and we begin our meeting. He's a laid back nerdy kind of guy. He admits freely that he lets his students get away with more than he should. He also confesses that he really likes them and finds them both entertaining and challenging. He's been teaching at this particular high school for 5 years. Prior to this job he taught English at a Catholic school for 3 years. He is married and has 2 children (a boy and a girl). I also learn is wife used to live in my hometown and they currently live not far from where I grew up. He gives me the details on the problem kids he has: 2 boys with temper/attention issues and a group of four girls with typical teen attitude problems. It doesn't sound too bad, but I will have to judge for myself. As we were talking he was writing notes on which classes the kids are in and what each class is working on.

Halfway through our meeting he says he has books for me. We take a sort walk to the "book room." This is where is understand the difference between a district with good funding and a district with no budget. The "book room" is about 10x30 and is stocked floor to ceiling with literature. Mostly new books, some classics and some contemporary. Walking into this room is like having a religious experience. Well, at least for an English teacher. I get copies of The Crucible, 1984 and Daisy Miller by Henry James (which I have never read). We walk back to the classroom and he gives me an AP English book and answer key.

We conclude our meeting as he must get to a tuition appointment. He offers to walk me out to the parking lot. It is dismissal and there are students everywhere. He put on his coat and scarf. His scarf is a replica of the same scarf that Harry Potter wears at Hogwarts. I thank him again and we make plans to meet again next week.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Dead Poet's Society

I am finding my winter break a bit too long. I am grateful for not having to travel in the horrid weather, but I still wish I had a job. Thankfully I have been in contact with the teacher I will be working with this semester for student teaching. We are meeting this Thursday to review what he is currently teaching.

Yesterday I was happy to find "Dead Poet's Society" on television. It has been years since I had seen it. I was all too happy to crash on the couch and watch it in its entirety without interruption. Now that I am working toward a teaching degree I saw the film through a different set of eyes. The impact was much greater now than I remember the last time I saw it. I related so much more to Mr. Keating (Robin Williams) now. I could understand his creative teaching styles and his desire to want his students to think for themselves. I could also understand the impact his students had on him. When student Neil (Robert Sean Leonard) commits suicide, I once related to his side of the story: coming of age, self-discovery, overbearing parent, etc. I still found myself mad with his parents for not listening to him. But my heart ached even more for Mr. Keating. It's so interesting what time and experience can do in altering how one views the world. I think I can build a lesson out of that somewhere.